Is Class Rank Really Important?

By Kevin McMullin

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In 2017, the public school system in Spokane, Washington, announced that they were eliminating both class ranking and the valedictorian system from high schools.

Walt Gardner, a 28-year veteran of the Los Angeles Unified School District and a lecturer at the UCLA Graduate School of Education, disagreed with the decision.

And Denise Pope, co-founder of Challenge Success, disagreed with Walt.

Clearly, there are smart, informed people on both sides of the “Should high schools rank students?” debate. But that’s not the point of this post.

Walt's argument is when students enter the workplace, "they will be assessed in one way or another, whether they like it or not.”

Denise's argument is that her organization, Challenge Success, has found that "eliminating valedictorian status and class rankings has reduced stress at certain schools—especially those where achievement in the form of grades and test scores and college admission rates is valued above all other traits.”

But there is a way that students (and parents) can have the best of both worlds.

There is an approach that will allow you to learn from a system that assesses you (whether you like it or not) but without causing undue stress:

Accept your high school’s policy about class rank, whatever it is.

Then get back to focusing on things that matter and that you can control, like your effort, goals, engagement, etc.

School policies regarding class ranking are almost always made carefully—what works for one school or student population may not work for another. That said, it's very important for students (and parents) to remember two things about class rank:

  1. You don’t get to control what your school decides to do with class ranks.

  2. Adults who are currently happy and successful in life never link their happiness and success to their high school class rank.

The more time and energy you expend debating your school’s class ranking system, the more frustrated you’re likely to become. And the less time and energy you’ll have to invest in things that will make you both happy and successful!

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